Time For Action

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Last week ’s Budget brought good news for those concerned about alcohol-related harm in Ireland as the Government effectively restored the excise duty on alcohol to 2009 levels, with the exception of the excise on wine, which is now higher than it was three years ago.

While the increase in excise duty is undoubtedly welcome, it is important to keep it in perspective. It is effectively the reversal of a decision to cut it by an unprecedented 20% back in 2009, when there were concerns over cross-border shopping as the Euro and Sterling were almost on a par. (See below for details of the excise duty increases)

When these currency conditions disappeared, so did the justification for slashing the excise duty. Though alcohol is often referred to as one of the  “old reliables ” around Budget time, there has in fact only been four excise duty increases in the past 18 years.

The excise duty increase is expected to yield about an extra around an extra  €200 million for the Exchequer. This is not an insignificant sum given our current economic woes, but it is a very small figure compared to the  €3.7 billion bill the State foots every year due to alcohol-related harm.

The fact remains that relatively cheap alcohol is still widely available throughout Ireland, particularly in the off-trade, even with the excise duty increases of last week. This can be clearly seen in the current Christmas promotions of several large retailers who continue to use cut-price alcohol to get customers in the door.

Pricing is key tackling the huge toll that alcohol-related harm takes on our society and that is why the Government must now introduce minimum pricing, as recommended by the Steering Group Report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy last February.

It was encouraging this week to hear Minister for Health James Reilly expressed his  “full support ” for the minimum pricing plans in Scotland.  “This is an important policy measure to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol and, in this regard, the Irish Department of Health is preparing proposals for similar legislation in Ireland, ” said Minister Reilly.

However, despite this, it now looks like the Alcohol Action Plan due to come before the Cabinet this year will be put on the long finger yet again, amid strong opposition to some of the key recommendations in the Steering Group Report  – particularly in relation to alcohol sponsorship and marketing – from the alcohol industry, as well as a number of Minister Reilly ’s Cabinet colleagues.

On a more optimistic note, Minister of State Alex White, speaking at Alcohol Action Ireland ’s conference on November 1, said he wanted to  “make it clear that my Department is actively preparing a concrete set of proposals on the basis of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Report ”.

He said that  “a very considerable amount of progress has already been achieved in this regard and the intention is to submit proposals to Government for consideration and approval as soon as possible. While I cannot be definitive about a date, I would hope that this can be done with a period of weeks. ”

However, in response to a Dáil question just a month later, Minister Reilly said his Department was still working on their proposals and they would be brought before the Cabinet at  “the earliest opportunity ”. This is despite Minister White ’s predecessor, Deputy Roisín Shortall, stating that the proposals were  “ready to go ” when she resigned her post as Junior Health Minister in September.

With Christmas time almost upon us, it now looks like even  “the earliest opportunity ” would be almost a year after the Steering Group Report on the National Substance Misuse Strategy (which itself was almost three years in the making) was published.

It ’s clear that we can ’t afford, in financial or human terms, to continue to pay the huge costs associated with alcohol-related harm in this country, particularly when the recommendations of the Steering Group Report provide us with a clear blueprint for changing our damaging relationship with drink.

It ’s clear that the time for Government to show the political will to turn those recommendations into actions that will help to protect the health and wellbeing of the citizens of this country is now.

Excise duty increases on alcohol products in Budget 2013

  • Excise duty on a pint of beer and cider has increased by 10c to 47c  – the same levels as in 2009.
  • Excise duty on spirits has also increased by 10c to 54c, slightly below 2009 levels (56c).
  • Excise duty on wine has been increased by  €1 to  €2.97, which is 51c above 2009 levels ( €2.46).

Minimum Pricing Coalition

Alcohol Action Ireland is supported in its call for minimum pricing by the following organisations: Alcohol Forum, Barnardos, Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, Focus Ireland, Foroige, Irish Association of Social Care Workers, Irish Association of Suicidology, Mental Health Ireland, Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (Faculty of Public Health Medicine), Social Care Ireland, St Patrick ’s University Hospital, St Vincent de Paul, Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force, the College of Psychiatry of Ireland, Clondalkin Local Drugs Task Force, the Family Support Network, the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Medical Organisation, the ISPCC, the National Youth Council of Ireland, the No Name Club, the RISE Foundation, the Samaritans, the Swan Family Support Project, the Rutland Centre and Women ’s Aid.